You have to understand, my hometown of Memphis has had an inferiority complex for as long as I can remember. Those of you who are from the Bluff City know what I'm talking about. For those who are not, just imagine a large city in desperate need of a self-esteem boost from Stuart Smalley. I was born in Memphis, but I've lived in the suburb of Germantown for the last 16 years. Whenever anyone asked me where I was from, I would usually just say Memphis, because it's easy and everyone knows where it is. But whenever Memphis was going through one of its many past embarrassments - especially if it was a sports-related one - my answer would always be Germantown. And believe me, we've had our share of sports-related embarrassments. No minor pro sports league has ever been created in this country without a team in Memphis. Now that's not to say there weren't loyal fans of these rinky-dink teams. Not at all. It's just that both of them moved away, and the teams usually followed suit shortly thereafter. But then, after years of watching Pharaohs, Mad Dogs and Chicks stroll in and out of town (I couldn't make this stuff up), Memphis really got a shot at the big time. After the city had unsuccessfully pursued a pro football team for a quarter of a century, the NFL finally arrived in 1997. The NFL left in 1998. The natives had never really cared much for the then-Tennessee Oilers, and it showed at the ticket gate. Everyone knew the team was basically using the city until a new stadium was finished over in Nashville - that city that Memphians love to hate. I mean, it was like your arch-enemy showing off his new Corvette and offering you a chance to drive it around for a very limited time - maybe on a few Sunday afternoons in the fall. It was just so sweet of Nashville. Of course, most Memphians refused to drive a car that wasn't really theirs and, of course, got railroaded in the national media for doing so. The incessant Elvis jokes had been annoying to us for years but were tolerated. The jokes about Memphis being a crummy sports town, though, stung. They hurt our morale more than anything. Nashville's NFL team changed its name and moved to a new stadium. Memphis's Arena League team changed its name and moved to Portland. Morale lowered.
Nashville and Atlanta got the National Hockey League. Memphis got something called Arena Football League 2. That's right - 2. It was the minor league of a minor league. Morale lowered even more.
Then the minor league baseball team that had been in Memphis for a century decided one day to move to the booming metropolis of Jackson, Tenn. Yes, that Jackson - you might have stopped at the Cracker Barrel there once while motoring down I-40. That might have been the worst moment of them all. Remember what I said about Stuart Smalley?
Anyway, I'm happy to report that Memphians have finally taken Stuart's advice by looking in the mirror and actually telling themselves they're "good enough."
They did this by building a downtown minor league baseball stadium that many visiting players and media say is nicer than half the stadiums in the majors. They also did it by filling up that new stadium and setting minor league attendance records.
They did by getting John Calipari to come and coach the University of Memphis basketball team. They also did it by selling out the Pyramid for every game last year - before the season.
They did it by luring the NBA's Grizzlies from Vancouver and agreeing to build a state-of-the-art $250 million arena. They also did it by luring Jerry West, an NBA legend and the league's top executive.
Then, just recently, the city persisted and landed the Spring Fling, which will bring thousands of high school athletes to Memphis (i.e. not Nashville) every year to compete for state championships.
And, oh yeah, in case you hadn't heard, the city was put in the international spotlight last week with the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis World Heavyweight Championship fight at the Pyramid. It was kind of a big deal.
You couldn't walk downtown this past weekend without seeing at least a few famous athletes or Hollywood movie stars. It was like a Lakers game had broken out on Beale or something.
So the city that everyone loved to laugh at a few years ago was getting rave reviews this past weekend from thousands of guests from around the world. It was nice to read the reviews and was even nicer to hear them personally from several downtown visitors I chatted with during fight week.
More important to me, though, was the fact that Memphis was finally getting rave reviews from its own citizens.
I've lived here all my life, and I know my town. Memphians are as united as I've ever seen them, and they truly believe that anything is possible in their city right now, and there's no doubt that several successful sports ventures have played a big part in that renewed civic pride. Personally, I don't think I've ever been prouder of where I'm from.
Where I'm from - in case anyone asks - is Memphis.